The other side of the environmental aspect, in which FSC is looking into if the forest is safeguarding biodiversity and protecting water resources connected to the forest
Forest Stewardship Council
The non-profit organization, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) works to protect forests worldwide. Founded in 1992, to improve forest practices and safeguard forests from deforestation. They are doing so by certifying forests, supply chains, materials, and companies that are complying with FSC standards.
In recent years, FSC has shed a light on the not-so-sustainable fashion and textile industry. Today, 7% of the textiles that are being used in fashion are of forest origin and only about half of these are sourced from sustainably managed forests. According to Loa Dalsgaard Worm, Senior Officer Innovation Outreach of FSC International, it is unknown where the other half is sourced. However, FSC is aware that they are coming from regions known for deforestation.
To protect and ensure responsible sourcing from forests, FSC engages with brands from the fashion and textiles industries in different ways. One part is how the organization works with the brand’s value chains and transforms those into compliance with FSC policies — which also could lead to certified garments and textiles to increase the awareness of the origin of fiber among the consumers. To do so, FSC supports brands in their mission to apply these policies. Which goes from the sourcing of fibers to data interoperability and traceability.
Another part of FSC’s work in fashion is regarding circularity and how it could be applied to fashion to create circular business models.
A — potential — sustainable option
In fashion’s search of becoming more sustainable, the industry has turned to ‘new’ options and materials. Including MMCFs (Man-made cellulosic fibres), where fashion has understood its potential. «If you look at it just sheerly from an LCA perspective, almost any other traditionally used fiber that you have because of the way that the forest captures carbon as it grows. So the fiber itself has a negative footprint, which means that if you then have a responsible production process, it [MMCF] remains to have a quite low footprint compared to other fibers», says Dalsgaard Worm.
The growing interest in materials of forest origin
In the last three years, MMCFs have been the textile fiber that has increased the most. A development that might sound healthy and sustainable — but it doesn’t come without any risks.
«If this growth does not come without requirement, we risk that the shift from other fiber types towards viscose will just ramp up deforestation in very vulnerable areas of the world. That is a risk that we are facing and that is why we’re focusing so much on this industry», Dalsgaard Worm explains.
This shines a light on a key aspect — reliable and safe certification. This ensures that your garment is made in safe conditions and has made no harm either to forests or people. Something that, according to Dalsgaard Worm, is not as reliable as it should be within fashion.
«What we’re seeing is that fashion brands can sometimes say that because this is a natural fiber, we colored the labels green, etc. but we’re not seeing companies shift a small proportion of their production into viscose or for the ability to claim that it’s sustainable. What we’re seeing is that the ones who already have viscose in their production make overclaim the sustainability of that standard for products».
How to become certified
To combat unreliable certification, FSC is working with comprehensive methods in its processes. When certifying forests, FSC is examining several different aspects of how the forest is managed, both socially and ecologically.
On one side is the social part, which includes respecting indigenous peoples’ rights — which often have a livelihood connected to forests. Ensure workers’ safety and use local workers whenever you can. Workers have to be trained and offered social security such as paid leave and maternity leave.
The other side is the environmental aspect, in which FSC is looking into if the forest is safeguarding biodiversity and protecting water resources connected to the forest, so that no logging is happening connected to them. However, it doesn’t end there. FSC is also looking into the whole supply chain — from fiber to fashion.
«Every single business that gets their hand on the fiber from the forest, from the time that it’s felled in the forest, according to the harvesting plan that they have to every single link, gets the chain of custody certification. That chain of custody certification means that they can separate FSC material from non-certified material so they can segregate the two. So that you can always be sure that when you buy a product with the FSC label, it comes from an FSC-certified source. And beyond that segregation, you also have to safeguard workers’ rights all the way up in the supply chain», says Dalsgaard Worm.
Fashion’s transparency issues
What often is highlighted as a major issue when speaking about fashion and sustainability is the industry’s complex supply chains. Dalsgaard Worm is in her role at FSC working with different industries, such as interior design. Have experienced another concern in fashion compared to other industries, which makes the transition to becoming more sustainable a troublesome journey.
«It is a myth the fashion industry keeps telling themselves that it’s more complex, and I think a lot of it comes down to tradition that you have these links of traders where you’ve just never asked where this comes from. So where other sectors have fewer agents in between and where you always or for the last many years have asked where this is coming from, what is the origin of this, and what’s in this product? That’s something that the fashion industry has not been very accustomed to. Fashion has been more afraid of the agents and being cut out by their middlemen. Why are the middlemen scared of being cut out? It’s probably because there has been a history of that happening. So it’s not the complexity of the supply chains as much as it is the lack of knowledge and transparency of the supply chains», she explains and continues «that’s the challenge in the fashion industry. Simply the fact that when brands want to get started on this, on embarking on these journeys, they do not know where their stuff is coming from».
The Fashion Forever Green-pact to safeguard forests
To further strengthen the protection of forests, FSC less than a year ago launched the Fashion Forever Green-pact. A coalition in which fashion brands can join and pledge to commit to certain standards. Rather than solely certifying garments, the pact is intended to connect brands that want to make a change and help them thrive in their sustainability journey.
To join, brands first and foremost have to comply with the CanopyStyle guidelines, a third-party verification process that is undertaken by viscose producers. This is to make sure that the brands are removing the sourcing from endangered forests immediately. The next step is then to have an FSC certification in place for themselves, and finally have a finished label garment on the market before 2025.
The value of protecting our forests, rather than planting new ones
An often-used practice within fashion and marketing is reforestation. It often could look like ‘buy a pair of shoes and we will plant a tree’ or something similar. Often a distinct and tangible message, that is easy to understand. However, there are better ways of improving our forests, even though the message might not be as powerful.
« I would much rather see we safeguarded where we got our fiber resources from in the first place, instead of having to plant a tree. If we are then embarking on ‘we want to reestablish nature’, I would much rather see people investing in reforesting or improving the quality of existing poorest areas. t’s not a simple message, but it’s just a much faster effect on global warming».
Forest Stewardship Council
FSC has 25 years of experience in sustainable forest management. FSC uses their expertise to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests, bringing together experts from the environmental, economic and social spheres.